Oliver Wendell Holmes was a scholar and a poet and a philosopher, sitting on our very own Supreme Court. It was a time when there was some overlap between culture and politics.

“Utilitarianism” is the secular moral philosophy that says there are no absolutes of right and wrong, but society’s managers can seek to arrange things so as to promote the general welfare—“the greatest good for the greatest number”.

Holmes uses the word “bettabilitarianism” to describe “the idea that the world is loose at the joints, that indeterminism plays a real role in the world.” It’s derived from utilitarianism plus the idea that we need to play the odds, recognizing our ignorance about the way things will unfold.

“We can never know anything for certain; we can only place bets one way or another. Like any gambler, however, we should gather as much information as possible before wagering our money or our lives. Only then can we be confident in the bets we have made”

Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. was born on this day in 1841.

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